Rent a Car in Europe

10 Things You Should Know about Renting a Car in Europe

Julie Travel Advice 65 Comments

Having a car provides a lot of freedom and convenience when traveling through Europe. You can travel at your own pace, stop frequently to take in the view, and get to some places that are difficult to reach with public transportation. However, there are some things to know about renting a car in Europe. Knowing these differences in advance can save you some money and maybe even a big travel headache.

Renting a Car in Europe

#1 Choosing a Company

The major rental car companies in Europe are Avis, Hertz, Budget, Europcar, and Sixt.

We always book our rental car in advance. During the planning phase of the trip, Tim checks the rates for the major companies and chooses the one with the best price. It takes extra time to price out five companies, but prices can vary widely depending on promotions and supply and demand, and it has been worth it to do this extra work in order to save money.

We don’t have a preference for one particular company, we just want the best deal.

If you don’t like the idea of pricing out the costs for multiple companies, you can use Auto Europe, which will find you the best rates for your trip. It’s similar to using Kayak when searching for the best deals on plane flights.

Trollstigen

Trollstigen, Norway

#2 Factors that Affect Rental Car Price

There are the obvious factors that determine price, such as duration of the rental period and the size of the vehicle. But there may also be some factors that you are not aware of.

Manual vs. Automatic

Manual vehicles are much more common in Europe than automatic vehicles. You can rent an automatic but these cars can cost as much as 50% more than a manual vehicle.

Different Pick-Up and Drop-Off Locations

Sometimes it makes sense to pick up a car at one location and drop it off at a different location.

For example, if you are driving through southern France, you may pick up a car in Nice, road trip through the French Riviera and Provence, and drop the car in Avignon.

Dropping the car off at a different location saves you a lot of time and unnecessary backtracking. However, there is a drop fee and this usually costs between €100 and €300, but it can be a lot more (up to €1000), particularly if you are picking it up in one country and dropping it off in another country.

When getting an estimate for different pick-up and drop-off locations, you have to decide if the extra money you will spend is worth saving the time and extra driving.

Tim and our Mega Van

Our “mega” van in Germany. The smaller shop in town did not have the compact car that we reserved, so Tim drove this beast on the Autobahn.

Picking up a Rental Car at an Airport or Train Station Adds an Extra Fee

Sure, it may be convenient to pick up a rental car at an airport or train station, but this usually comes with an additional charge, as much as €25 to €100 depending on the country. To save money, consider renting from a shop in town.

With that being said, renting at an airport or train station does have several advantages. It’s very convenient to get off the plane, pick up your car, and drive to your hotel. Secondly, the car rental facilities are much larger at airports and train stations. They have a higher volume of cars, so you’re less likely to be stuck waiting for a car or stuck with a car class you didn’t reserve (like in the photo above). And finally, those smaller shops also have reduced hours. Don’t expect to pick up or drop off a car before 9 am or past 5 pm at many of these locations.

It’s up to you to decide if the extra fee at the airport or train station is worth the convenience.

Cross Border Fees

Some rental car companies will charge you extra for driving their cars into certain countries. When driving through western Europe this is generally not an issue. However, you can be charged extra when driving into or between non-EU countries. This fee ranges from €15 to €50.

#3 You May Not be Permitted to Drive into Certain Countries

Some companies may forbid you from driving into specific countries, typically those than are not in the EU. Countries that can make this list are Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Albania, and Montenegro. However, these rules are always changing and can be very particular to certain rental companies.

#4 Make Sure you have an International Drivers Permit

When you go to pick up your car they will ask to see your confirmation number, drivers license, passport, and credit card. And they could potentially ask to see your International Drivers Permit (IDP).

An IDP translates your Driver’s License into 10 different languages. It contains your name, photograph, and driver information. You can get an IDP at AAA for $20.

It is important to know that an IDP does not replace your Driver’s License or passport; it supplements your Driver’s License.

Countries that require you to have an IDP are Spain, Germany, Italy, Greece, Slovenia, Poland, Hungary, Austria, and Bosnia & Herzegovina. You may not be asked to show your IDP when picking up your rental car in these countries, but it’s still a good idea to have one just in case.

Croatia Highway

Driving through Croatia

#5 What’s a Vignette, You Ask?

A vignette is simply a sticker that you attach to your windshield that shows that you have paid the highway taxes. If you rent a car in a country that requires a vignette, you will already be covered. However, if you drive a rental car into a country that requires a vignette, you will have to purchase it.

Countries that require vignettes include Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, Switzerland, Hungary, Slovenia, and Bulgaria.

Vignettes are sold at border crossings and nearby gas stations. You can purchase a vignette for €3 to €10, depending on the country. If you fail to purchase a vignette, you could be fined 60€ or more.

#6 And then there’s this thing called the “Green Card”

A green card is a cross-border insurance card that proves that your car has at least minimum level of insurance required.

Most countries in the EU do not require you to have a green card. It’s required in just a handful of countries, including Bosnia & Herzegovina, Albania, and Montenegro, just to name a few. We needed a green card for our trip on the Balkan Peninsula and we spent $2.34 USD per day for the green card.

This is issued by your rental car company when you make your reservation.

#7 Use a Credit Card that Offers Rental Insurance

Some credit cards offer car rental insurance. We always reserve our rental cars using our Visa card because it provides collision damage insurance so we do not pay extra for the rental car company’s insurance.

#8 About Filling the Car with Gas

What Americans call “gas,” Europeans call essence, petrol, or benzine. Regular unleaded gas is labeled as “95” at the petrol stations.

There’s a very good chance that you will be adding diesel to your car, rather than unleaded gasoline. When you pick up your rental car, confirm what type of “gas” you will need to add.

Prices are listed in liters, so it may look cheap, but one gallon of gas costs roughly €7 in Europe.

#9 Driving on the Left in the UK and Ireland

If you are accustomed to driving on the right side of the road, making that switch to the left can be intimidating. At first, it takes a lot of concentration. Roundabouts, busy city streets, and entrance ramps onto highways can be nerve wracking. All of a sudden you feel like a newbie driver again.

Give it some time and it does get easier, and rather quickly. Just remind yourself which side of the road to stay on as you make a turn and as you enter a roundabout. It can be helpful for the passenger to remind the driver as well.

The other thing to know about driving on the opposite side of the road is that the driver’s seat will also be on the opposite side of the vehicle, forcing you to shift gears with your opposite hand. If shifting gears with your opposite hand concerns you then make sure you select an automatic car when you make your reservation.

Dingle Drive

The Dingle Peninsula, Ireland

#10 The Quirks of Manual Transmission

One thing to know about manual transmission is that it’s not always as simple as pushing in the clutch and moving the gear shifter to “R”. In Europe, some cars require an extra step.

You may have to apply downward pressure on the gear shifter, pull up on the collar of the gear shifter, or even press a button on the collar of the gear shifter, in order to get it to engage into reverse.

Just make sure you know how to put the car in reverse before you drive it off the lot.


Have you rented a car in Europe? Are there any tips or tricks about renting a car in Europe that we missed? Comment below and let us know!

 

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Renting a Car in Europe

Comments 65

  1. Hi, your travel blog is amazing and truly inspiring. We are planning to pick up car form Vienna and head south to Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro and also to Kosovo. Will there be a problem during border crossing to Bosnia, from Croatia or during crossing from Montenegro to Bosnia. Are you aware of any, since you also visited Bosnia and Kotor, Montenegro. You are probably most experienced while visiting those places. Please provide some advise.
    By the way, Tim looks very much like Luka Madric, the Croatian soccer star.

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      Author

      Hello! This sounds like a wonderful trip. And you’re right, I can see a resemblance between Tim and Luka Madric. 🙂 There are 2 things to check to make sure you have no issues at the border crossings. #1, make sure you can take your rental car to all of these countries (let your rental car company know what you plan to do). They can also give you info on the Green Card. #2, depending on your nationality and your passport, make sure you don’t need any visas for these countries. We have a USA passport and they stamped our passport, just like at border control in an airport. The border crossings were fast and straight forward, although there can be lines, depending on the time of day and time of year. The summer months get the biggest crowds and the longest lines. So budget in extra driving time from May through September, or try to time your border crossings for the morning or evenings. But the border crossings are very similar to arriving at an international airport and going through border control. Have a great trip! Cheers, Julie

      1. Hi Julie, yes I will check with the rental company (Europcar). We have US passport, but I must talk to the rental company, before June comes. Thanks.

  2. If you are going to Europe for 3+ weeks, all of the questions surrounding CDW or other (annoying) insurance add-ons are a moot point if you use a service like AutoFrance (https://www.autofrance.net/) because it’s essentially all-inclusive and usually ends up less expensive than a regular car rental. I do agree though, train travel avoids all of that and can be nice but it all depends what freedoms you want on the trip IMO.

    side note I’d suggest to check the details with them though in terms of what countries are covered by insurance, for instance I recall questions surrounding coverage for bosnia and herzegovina but for a tour of western Europe, you’re good to go.

    1. What a wonderful website and article. We are going to Norway for a bucket list trip next month and are renting a car. A rental car is a must as we will be mostly travelling in fjord country on a self created itinerary I believe it fits us to a T. The rental car scenario really has me frustrated as it is difficult getting accurate information. Example: We have great coverage ($50K USD CDW, Theft and liability) via our AmEx. We secured a rental via broker (rentalcars.com) and the rental is thru Budget. I’ve noticed complaints on some travel sites about the difficulty of getting a straight answer with respect to CDW and Theft protection in Norway so I asked Budget. After getting two nonsensical replies, they finally said they do not allow you to refuse the CDW and Theft at the counter. Furthermore, they said you have to take their insurance which costs more per day than the car rental! They also said they do not accept 3rd party insurance so you can’t even buy a lower cost policy via rentalcars.com. I asked rentalcars.com and they said that could not be true as hey have never heard of such a thing. Tomorrow I guess it’s a call directly to the Budget counter at the Bergen airport to ask what their policy is….and to see if they will document their position in writing. Crazy. Posting this for any comments and to share with others.

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        Author
  3. Hello! Your blog has been so helpful! My mom and I will be traveling by car starting in Bosnia and driving through Croatia and Montenegro. I was wondering if we need to let the rental car company know ahead of time that a green card is needed or if it’s something we can get when we arrive to pick up the car. I am having trouble contacting them but don’t want any surprises when we arrive to get the car. Thank you!

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      Author

      We got ours when we picked up the rental car. We notified the rental car company ahead of time (Tim called them). It might not be necessary to contact them ahead of time, since this is a “normal” thing to do for rental cars in Bosnia and Montenegro, it just put our mind at ease. If for some reason you don’t get one, it sounds like you could also pay a fee at the border. Read more here. Cheers, Julie

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      Author

      Yes, you cannot drive in Venice, it’s all pedestrian streets and canals. However, there is a large parking garage on the edge of the city that you can park in. You can drive into Milan, Innsbruck and Prague without any issues (we drove in both Prague and Innsbruck with a rental car). Cheers, Julie

  4. Hi, thank you for sharing your experiences. I´m very excited to go to Europe for the first time (honneymoon), We booked a trasatlantic cruise from florida to barcelona, our idea is to know as much as we can. We are planning to go from barcelona to Rome by car (a little stop in montreux for the chocolate train), then by train from Rome to venice, vienne, praga, berlin, amsterdam, paris, london. 15 days on a boat and around 30 in Europe. My question is. do you think we would be able to enjoy this or we will be more concerned about trasportation, get in time to trains, and not enjoing the trip as we want. I would love to hear from your expert point of view what do you tink of this ittinerary. Thanks

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      Author

      We are big fans of using trains in Europe. I know that it gives you a little bit of work now to look into train routes and book tickets, but for the end of your trip I think using the train makes the most sense. Renting a car in Europe for 30 days could easily cost you $1000 USD or more. Train travel is much cheaper. And while you are in cities, you will have very little need for a car, so you will still be paying for it (and most likely paying for parking as well). This entire trip can be done by train. If you choose the train, you might also want to look into getting a railpass. Cheers, Julie

  5. We also have a visa credit card but that only provides us with a CDW not liability or medical if we hit someone. Do you get any other insurance besides using your Visa??

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      Author

      Our Visa card provides a CDW policy that includes damage and/or theft for the vehicle being rented, loss of use charges, and towing. In most cases we do not purchase any additional insurance, but that should really be a personal decision based on where you’ll be driving, your driving experience, the potential financial burden, peace of mind, etc.

  6. What are average one day rental costs without any extras ( like insurance, driver, gps) for an automatic in western Europe? I would like know a range to budget things in. I typically see 30 Eur a day for an automatic without any extras, is that normal?

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      Author

      I can’t give just a ballpark average because prices can change based on month and country (western Europe is quite large). Every time we travel to Europe we see a wide range of prices from year to year. The rental cost can vary a lot between countries. To get an idea of pricing for your trip, visit Auto Europe’s website or Hertz, Avis, etc. Cheers, Julie

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      It always a good idea to have insurance, no matter where you are driving. You can take the insurance the rental car company offers. Our Visa card provides insurance when we rent the car so we do not have to pay an extra fee. Doing this has saved us a lot of money. Cheers, Julie

  7. I’m going to be traveling to Italy during the end of June and the beginning of July. I’m going to use your 2 days in Rome itinerary! The question I do have is how were you guys able to get around? I’m having a hard time navigating through the train systems from Naples to Rome. I looked through your links and still was a bit confused. Do you know if getting a private driver or a driving company is worth it? I saw you had a post on it and can’t find it Thanks!
    Alex

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      Author

      Hello Alex. We took a train from Rome to Naples and the Circumvesuviana from Naples to Florence. I recommend using the Italiarail website. On their front page, put in the 2 cities. Rome Termini is the main train station near the center of Rome. Put in Naples Main Station (Napoli Centrale) for Naples. Select your date of travel and then you will be given options. There are 2 basic trains types. Regional, the cheaper option, is the slow train. We took this train…it was hot in the summer and took twice as long to get to Florence as the high-speed trains. If you don’t mind spending a little more money, book the high-speed trains (the Frecciarossa and the Frecciargento). You can see the train type if you click the circle with the arrow (for more information). You can book regional trains 60 days in advance and high-speed trains 90 – 120 days in advance. Getting a private driver is worth it if you plan to go to Sorrento or the Amalfi Coast from Naples. A driver is much more expensive than the Circumvesuviana but a driver is also much more convenient. Here are the links to visiting Pompeii from Rome and how to travel to Sorrento. These should help you too. Cheers, Julie

  8. What about “holds” put on your credit card. I have been told they can cost three to five thousand. If I go through a main stream car company is it the same?

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      Author

      Yes, it is possible that they could do a pre-authorization and hold money on your card. The bigger international companies should list the amount in their terms in conditions, so you know before you rent the car. It can be a lot of money and there are a lot of variables that determine the amount…it can vary by company, country, etc. Cheers, Julie

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